Apple now allows 'reader' apps to link to their own sites

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,523   +1,056
Staff member
A hot potato: Apple is finally instituting a policy it told the courts it would last October. The rule change involves what Apple refers to as "reader apps." These are apps with the specific purpose of serving subscribed content to mobile users. Primarily this affects apps like Netflix, Spotify, Kindle, or even Amazon's Comixology.

Previous App Store guidelines prevented reader apps from linking to their website counterparts. Presumably, this was to influence developers to use its payment system in their apps so the App Store could take a 30-percent cut. However, it only prompted these players to add pop-up notices saying they could not perform transactions within the app.

Last September, Apple agreed to start letting certain apps link to their corresponding websites to close an antitrust investigation in Japan. A month later, a ruling in the Epic Games v Apple lawsuit mandated that the Cupertino giant allow apps to direct customers to their subscription and account pages. Both Apple and Epic were not happy with the judgment but for different reasons.

Apple didn't care for the judge's decision because it shut down all possibilities of the App Store taking a cut from external service subscriptions immediately. It ultimately asked the judge to stay the ruling until December, citing that it would open its users to fraud to implement it so quickly. Presumably, the stay would also have allowed Apple's legal team to tie up the judgment in court proceedings potentially for years. Clearly, it didn't delay it for nearly that long.

Epic was unsatisfied because the ruling excluded secondary app stores and payment methods. Its entire case was based on Apple's tight control over how games could distribute content and in-game currency, allowing it to collect a 30-percent fee for content that Apple did not help maintain.

"Apple's special deal for 'reader apps' like Amazon video, Netflix, and Kindle just got more special!" a disgruntled Tim Sweeney tweeted. "Starting in 2022, they can link directly to the web to signup and 'manage' accounts (presumably meaning: buying stuff with non-Apple payment methods)."

Epic's CEO and founder saw it as a sweetheart deal for apps that were not much different from Fortnite's in-game store. He especially took issue with Roblox deeming itself an "experience" rather than a game and Apple using that as justification to label it a reader app.

For at least a few apps, the user experience should improve, but it's not as simple as developers just adding a link to their website and calling it a day. Apple has some stipulations on its developer support pages outlining how it has to be done.

First, the developer must ask Apple for an "entitlement" to include the link. Next, when clicking the link, users must be presented with a blurb informing them of the "risks" of giving their personal information to third-party developers outside of Apple's ecosystem.

Furthermore, the website must open in a browser and cannot use the in-app web view API. The link also cannot pass on any additional information to the website. So no linking directly to the user's account page. Lastly, the app cannot discuss prices in any way — essentially no promoting discounts or what have you within the app.

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Posts: 4,235   +6,036
As much as I like the idea of a well-curated storefront, Apple's store is so basic and lackluster that it detracts from the experience. Add to that Apple's insistence on taxing content that's literally coming through a web portal and it becomes clearer that something has to be done. The people who complain about compromising the walled garden have no argument because nobody is forcing them to sideload or use alternative storefronts.


Posts: 71   +143
Apple loves to stand in the way of basic human progress. Wouldn't it be funny to just break them up?

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,523   +1,056
Staff member
I am an iPhone user and I DO like the walled garden. I like that I don't really have to worry about downloading something from some unknown source (yes, I know some malware still gets through the vetting process, but it's comparatively rare and usually easy to spot). I don't have the need for any apps that are not in the app store, so I could care less about sideloading.

That said, I don't think Apple should be fighting so hard against people doing whatever they want with their own property. People want to sideload, let them. It's their risk, if they want to take the risk let them. Apple can easily state in it's EULA that sideloading is not recommended and that it will not be held liable for damages cause by sideloaded apps. Indemnify itself from warranty claims resulting from non-App Store software and let people go to town.

Like @psycros said, nobody is forcing anybody to sideload. Just let people be free to do what they want with their devices while continuing to provide a safe(r) place to find software. Problem solved.